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Romero’s ‘Dead’ trilogy: An autopsy

April 9, 2011 –

Each of the three films that made up George A Romero’s conceptually linked ‘Dead’ series were quite enigmatic, and now stand as some of the most influential memes in modern cinematic history. This feature for Deathmetal.Org need not explicitly make side references between the musical subculture of which we write to this realm of celluloid, as its popularity with many of death metal’s listening base is well known to those who have insight.

The Night of the Living Dead

Mankind eschews the macabre and the horrifying and in so doing never fully realizes, learns of or utilizes his whole nature. With the exception of a few brave souls, many people prefer to lead idle unchallenged and unexamined lives, if only because the contrary adventure is difficult and exposes one to multifarious existential realizations, including the reality of the ephemeral nature of ones existence. This I conclude is one reason why the horror genre is generally held in such contempt by modern man, when utilized effectively, not only does it confront the eschewed amoral primordial concerns of mans essential being, it does so in a way that is urgent and demanding of ones attention. Having set up his ever safe concrete abode, modern man now hibernates, avoiding existence and its deeper philosophical puzzle’s in favour of sugar coated half-truths such that soothe and reassure him of his “equality” his “individual uniqueness” and his “inherently universal importance”.

The legendary, provocative and incendiary “Night of the Living Dead” does the exact opposite as it confronts, plays on, and plays with the innate primal fears, dynamics and concerns of mankind. Although loosely conceived as an apocalyptic encounter with the forces of the “living” dead, a profound level of psychological insight and evocative symbolism permeates George A Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” and thus qualifies this work as a true modern masterpiece and a generally overlooked piece of art.

With no little genius Romero effectively lulls viewers into a world viewers can easily relate to by evoking and mirroring significant aspects of our everyday life. Each detail, from the realistically portrayed incompetence of societal authority figures, the naive adherence of people to the demands of the television, the undeniable emotional bond between brother and sister, to the familiar sounds of everyday life, including the incessant chirping of crickets, allows the viewer to fundamentally relate to and plunge into Romero’s world. In fact, the capacity to create a world or setting that so closely mirrors not only a Cold War world obsessed with science and technology but also a timeless, comfortable and familiar, although eerily de-contextualized reality represents perhaps the most important aspect of Romero’s film. These considerations in conjunction with Romero’s capitalization on further cinematic realism, forces the viewer to take seriously the events unfolding within it. Rather than questioning the veracity or possibility of the events unfolding viewers are drawn into reacting, along with whichever psychological archetype they most closely identity with, to the horrifying and challenging events that are taking place.

Although shot in black and white, Romero’s masterpiece lends itself to such profound levels of interpretation that a mere moral and linear evaluation of the film, the characters, or the actions and events therein becomes impossible. To suppose that the contrast between the black and white film and the various gradations of interpretation the film lends itself to was an intentional decision does not appear as dubious as one may suppose. In fact, it seems to coherently present an ingenious tongue in cheek and subtle level of social commentary on a society that was, and still is, increasingly seeing the world in simple morally absolutist ways amidst an inherently complex reality that disdains simple moralistic evaluations.

Through an ingenious development of the story, viewers, while perhaps horrified at the attacking zombies, are not given the pre-requisite moral education or signifying variables that would make it intellectual honest to morally condemn these purely instinctual flesh eating parasites, whose origin can be laid at the feet of man alone. This of course increases the profundity of the film as Romero brilliantly turns the story away from the simple and exhausted “us versus them” or “good versus evil” theme. Viewers are thus forced, beyond the categories of good and evil, to search for, construct and perhaps impose upon the film a more profound meaning.

Romero’s ability to vividly explore, amidst an environment whose intensity is heightened due to the proximity of death, the nature of human relationships, tribal power dynamics, and the capacity for the characters to deal with the prospect of their immanent demise reveals an attempt on part of the film to explore and highlight some of the fundamental aspects of mans primal nature. The intriguing and dynamic character relationships, for example, reveal and augment the inherent antagonism between virtue and vice and we witness concretely the poignant disparity between courage and cowardice, shortsightedness and wisdom, emotion and reason, optimism and pessimism. Viewers also witness the psychological development of each character as they are confronted with possibility of death, themselves symbolizing at a more significant level various timeless psychological archetypes with which it is difficult for the viewer to not identify with.

Additionally, the revelatory and intrinsically personal antagonisms that define each character bear witness to a decisively human element within the film, such that it becomes difficult for the viewer to not empathise with the manifold and sometimes dubious decisions and reactions of each character. This thankfully increases the level of interpretative depth and challenges the viewer; cowardice contextualized instead becomes the instinctual protection of the father, co-operation and perhaps courage resemble stupidity, pessimism becomes realism, optimism becomes fantasy, and so on. In contrast to many latter day films which celebrate an easy and crowd friendly reality that is typically one dimensional, “Night of the Living Dead” successfully transcends this pitfall and successfully mirrors the complexity of the human condition and the multiple variables that determine its structure.

Moreover, “Night of the Living Dead” includes the uncanny capacity to raise an array of questions that unsettle and challenge the mind: Who exactly is Romero referring to as the “Living Dead”? In what ways does technology bring about mans apocalyptic future, has our technological hubris undone us? How does the theme of technology relate to the zombies aversion to fire? How do we relate to and mirror the zombies at an instinctual level? Indeed, a plethora of questions, paradoxes and insights awaits the discerning viewer.

However, in the end what is horrifying about “Night of the Living Dead” is not the flesh eating zombies, it is the capacity for this film accurately reflects man’s condition on so many levels, and to expose the viewer to his or her own primal nature. Above all, what meaning one extracts will depend on each individual’s capacity to plume the philosophical depths implied by one of the main conceptual tenants that drives this movie forward: Only Death is Real.

-TheWaters

Dawn of the Dead

Combustive, feverishly paced and exploitative almost in an infantile way are some of the qualities of the first follow-up to Romero’s original terror classic. By 1978 merciless killing, cannibalism, pile-up of corpses and explosions of gore had journeyed through the forbidden territories of ‘grindhouse’ B-movie theaters all the way to the brink of mainstream as it seemed already the norm to distrust the ‘establishment’. This is satirically extrapolated by the first few minutes where a cop operation gone awry climaxes with a spectacular scene of shooting a person’s head completely off as if it was no big deal.

The colorful but dimensional 35 mm cinematography, financed with the help of Dario Argento’s Italian team, lets Romero to indulge in more ‘hi-tech’ action than before with plenty of fast tracked views from helicopters but also conduct long and gritty depictions of places and people (and of course the zombies) as if we were watching a documentary. He did not originate this technique, but especially in ‘Dawn of the Dead’ mastered it so far that if there is one movie that seems to truly reveal the morbid but ordinary facets of disillusioned 70′s life in the United States, it must be this. The fantasy elements do not seem to be such when immersed in the logical and natural unfolding of the events.

‘Dawn’ is the first of the movies where a point is made of the zombies being less than authentic enemy but rather pathetic victims of a disastrous failure of civilization. The hard boiled soldiers’ execution of zombie families with children is chilling, echoing the amoral vigilante mentality that pervaded a myriad of cult classics of the era. When the supermarket setting allows the script to use both the human characters and the masses of the dead as two ‘classes’ of consumerism, the dimensions of the movie become delightful and tormenting – especially as it is conducted with the flair of a movie magician without an ounce of excess political rant.

Ultimately the angle is cynical since the characters seem very happy with their boring and cyclical existence in the safety of the supermarket, shielded from the dangers of the outside world and appropriately only at the moments of danger does an enlivening sparkle permeate their mind and hands. The intrapersonal dynamics are still reminiscent of ‘The Thing from Another World’ (1951), a veritable science fiction classic where the alien ‘thing’ was deemed almost irrelevant because of the all-around devastation wreaked by social and personal problems of respected figures such as scientists and soldiers.

Despite the passed decades of pushing all-around borders, the gore in the movie still repulses in its humorous viciousness. Besides the more didactic ‘Salò’ and the more amateurish ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’, it’s one of the earliest full-fledged exercises in movie brutality, of the bombardment of visual ugliness. It is entirely in parallel with syncopated, jagged, atonal and growled music as medium; it forces the mind to make certain choices while most mainstream entertainment attempts to unify people with hypnotized neutrality and smooth edges.

It’s hard to pick a favorite from the trilogy but there are nuances and an all-out spirit of warfare in this one quite unmatched by the others, which do raise different points of abstraction by themselves. The battle of solitary but teamed individuals against the masses of horrible biological abomination strikes a note which can seem scarily familiar. The message is cryptic but it is spoken loud – there is no more room in Hell… 

-Devamitra

Day of the Dead

Undoubtedly the most cynical and dark of Romero’s ‘Dead’ trilogy, ‘Day Of The Dead’ continues the concepts explored in ‘Night Of The Living Dead’ and ‘Dawn Of The Dead’ which to the social anthropologist fall perfectly within the societal contexts of their decade, both in terms of appearance and issues dealt with. 1985′s ‘Day Of The Dead’, the intended third of George A Romero’s trilogy for the most part tackles Cold War paranoia dead on, and conveys a sense of isolation, disorder, and internal conflict that 1978′s ‘Dawn Of The Dead’ hinted at.

Whereas ‘Night Of the Living Dead’ contaminated the countryside, and ‘Dawn Of The Dead’ contaminated greater consumerist society, the third of these films now brings the viewer to a conclusion in where all previous facets of Western human society have been fully violated, with the few to emerge unscathed hibernating in underground shelters where in spite of a common need to survive, greater in-fighting occurs. This film is a much more dramatic affair than any of the previous two, and as a result its subject matter becomes more obtuse. Science and anatomy play a greater role in this film, in which the chief lab technician attempts to find means as of how to reanimate the once living, or do bring about a reversibility to the impulse-only movement of the undead. The soundtrack is mostly synthesized, having an emotive depth not unlike a cross between the scores to Scott’s ‘Blade Runner’ and Argento’s ‘Tenebrae’.

The graphical element of the third of these films is more prominent, the gore more repulsive, the atmosphere more repulsive and suspensive. Some would suggest that the quite lengthy build up of this installment is detrimental to the overall quality of the film, but in the opinion of the reviewer gives an excellence not seen in the previous two installments, the most intelligent and and serious of Romero’s zombie films. 

-Pearson

Rodrigo D: No Futuro

November 8, 2010 –

Metal audiences and listeners, aficionados of a genre that is well known for it’s enthusiasm towards the macabre will always have the generalization of being attached to the horror genre. A very recent review of Cannibal Holocaust on here is testament to the leanings that many metallers and Hessians would have towards gore, science fiction and the supernatural, occult side of cinema. Seeing as Cannibal Holocaust did ‘realism’ to a certain extent,  reviewing Rodrigo D: No Futuro intends to further this. This drama film, about an aspiring drummer is a brilliant narrative about survival amidst the harshest and roughest of environments captures a realism not present in most forms of dramatic cinema, but also possesses the same punk nihilism that would easily appeal to anybody who enjoyed Alex Cox’s brilliant ‘Repo Man’ and Tim Hunter’s ‘Rivers Edge’, stripped towards a far more coherent realism that is totally at odds with commercial  ‘glossy’ film-making.

The fact that the film was shot in the same neighborhood where many of the main actors lived, within a city known to have the world’s highest murder rate at the time, only gives light to the fact as to how these young people would have gone about their daily lives, for which reason the writer feels rather little need to offer intricate details towards the plot of the film. It’s backdrop revolves around a day to day existence under the constant plethora of violence, crime, strife and nothingness for it’s young protagonists, amidst a musical backdrop that is a myriad of punk hardcore, thrash and early death/black metal, an indicator that if Europe were home to romanticism and North America a hotbed for nihilism, then surely in it’s earlier days the South American metal scene was the land where a brutal realism, born from poverty and societal decay, made itself clear.

Musically the soundtrack is one of the most compatible, suitable and cohesive to be heard in any underground flick. The fact that the bands featured on here are so distinctly similar to one another yet retaining their own character is perhaps indicative of a thriving yet incestuous underground scene in Medellin at the time, the savage and raw tonal quality having much in common, but perhaps a much more chaotic, ambient, stripped down take on what the Brazilian underground acts (Sepultura, Sarcofago, MutilatorVulcano, Sextrash) had done in a similar era. The remaining soundtrack is permeated with punk rock and hardcore that although not on the same level of corrosive aggression still oozes the same depravity and oblivion that makes the film all the more worthwhile and excellent.

An additional bonus to this is the presence of members of seminal Columbian act Parabellum in the film, the scene in which they are featured being poignant and insightful enough to merit that parts of the film were as good as being documentary footage. The scene featuring another local act, Blasfemia is excellent and iconic, with the band playing a rooftop gig/rehearsal, in the backdrop of idyllic mountains in the distance of decrepit, violent shanties.This is a highly recommended film for anyone fond of exploring realism within cinema, and also for those who want insight into South American underground music of the 80′s, getting hold of the soundtrack would be highly recommended. A gripping film, and both watcher or listener is entitled to take that opinion in either direction.

Written by Pearson

 

Cannibal Holocaust

July 12, 2010 –

This is by no means the easiest of films to watch. It has numerous flaws and executions within the film that would provoke one to make immediate criticism, for example the sub-par, almost at times robotic acting and unimaginative script, and what could indeed be labelled a lack of cohesion (could this be due to editing and censoring? I am not sure), Cannibal Holocaust never ceases to shock and provoke, as well as provoke immediate questions of ‘who are the real savages?’ and how people might want to generally assess their modern, non-organic way of living.

For those unaware, the film centers around an anthropologist who is searching the wherabouts of a film crew, lost and presumed dead after having gone on a expedition discovering primitivist tribal cultures, and the alleged cannibalism associated with it. Upon retrieving a camcorder containing reels of film that entail the ill-fated decline and fall of the expedition, the anthropologist then returns to the United States, to show the footage to the executives of a major television station. As each reel is played off, we see the young crew begin as arrogant, gung-ho, civilised and white skinned carefree adventurers, with little or no respect for a habitat that is not, and will never be their own. As the film footage progresses, we see the crew make contact with the native tribespeople, and imposing their presence on them in a harsh manner, committing beatings, tortures, arson and rape, whilst filming their deeds, which they attempt to justify on the grounds they are more civilised than they. As the title of the film partially implies, the predators surely but quickly become prey, each of them killed barbarically and ritualistically. In between the pausing of the reels, the executives of the television network are convinced that the celluloid they witness would indeed make for good viewing ratings, to the anthropologist’s objection that such a thing is exploitative and in bad taste.

The film is at times unsettling, and we see many obvious critiques of how life, substance and nature are valued by the modern ‘civilised’ human being. One easily gets the impression at times that the intrusion of camera, gun and machete wielding Westerners into isolated, indigenous land is a metaphorical allusion to the ills of colonialism. The film also questions the bloodthirsty sales appetite we see in the modern media, ‘blood equals ratings’, which is too often seen when a mainstream newspaper is more than happy enough to make their own material gains from anothers tragedy. As I have illustrated in the opening paragraph, this film is badly executed in certain avenues, and when viewed it is easy to realise this. The real-life killings of animals are stomach-churning, and will alienate many. The depictions of sacrifice, abortion, rape, castration, mutilation and torture are profoundly realistic and shocking, they give a raw attribute to the film that very little in the cinematic world will ever match.

The most redeeming features of the film are the soundtrack by Riz Ortolani, which utilises rather dated synthesisers alongside a string orchestra, often interspersed with music that sounds not too dissimilar to Italian religous music, with arpeggiated acoustic guitars playing upbeat music that adds a brilliantly sarcastic touch to an otherwise grim and unrelenting series of violent acts. The usage of hand-held camera is very effective. As opposed to films where every scene is portrayed from a multi-angle perceptive, we see absolute realism for the most part, and is done in a non-perfective, improvised fashion that otherwise contributes heavily to making the film for the most part, very convincing. Cannibal Holocaust is flawed, yes. But it is a triumph of the cold, efficient will. Unlike the humoured (but still excellent) Dawn Of The Dead, Cannibal Holocaust is the work of the cynical sociopath, and seems to metaphorically imply that when one reaches or exceeds a certain threshold of excess, be it due to ignorance, lust, greed, self-indulgence etc, there is not even the vaguest chance of redemption. In a sense, the message of this film is an all-out war against the modern way, and the belief that furthering it to those who are otherwise unwilling to accept it is nothing short of a disastrous consequence. The film also suceeds in that it doesnt moralise about the issues it raises, and also leaves the film open to many possible interperatations. Overlooked by critics for its very bad acting, reviled by the politically correct, adored by much of the exploitation crowd, here is a film which holds truths and meanings beyond a framework that would isolate and sicken many.

Sarcophageous film on Finnish heavy metal culture

March 11, 2010 –

Promised Land of Heavy Metal is a documentary about the history and philosophy of Heavy Metal and how it became such a big deal in a small country called Finland.

We tell the story of Finnish Metal, from its early “underground” days to the present success stories, by interviewing famous musicians, experts and events organizers, a psychiatrist and a doctor of theology. The film takes us literally from the graveyard to the Finnish President’s palace!

Why is Metal a religion for so many? What are it’s links to satanism and ritualistic murders? What made Metal mainstream in Finland? Why does the Finnish Church have Metal Masses? What’s the future of Metal, after LORDI won the Eurovision song contest and even the President approves? We hear strong opinions: some see Metal as the new folk music, while others detest it’s commercial aspect.

The film is narrated by Kimmo Kuusniemi, a filmmaker, Sarcofagus guitarist and a forefather of Finnish Metal. Kimmo has lived in England for 16 years, and sees the current popularity of Heavy Metal as a strange phenomenon. He was the one who fought for the metal message 30 years ago! What happened in Finland in his absence?

One of our aims over the years has been to prove how the vital undercurrents of Finland produced cultivated metal sensations over the years from the earliest heavy metal days, best exemplified by the inimitable Sarcofagus, to thrash and the Finnish death metal movement, finally creating a discharge of consciousness that erupted in mainstream metal sensations all over the world, leaving most of the more focused and gloomy explorers to repose in the depths.

Kimmo Kuusniemi, the founder of Sarcofagus, the earliest Finnish metal band, has aggregated his unique vision into a documentary giving sporadic but meaningful glimpses into metal culture in search of the ultimate question: why?

Written by Devamitra

Until the Light Takes Us: Review

October 18, 2009 –

This long-awaited independent film documentary finally hit London as part of the Raindance film festival, as metalheads and indie pricks alike filled the seats to watch what has been promoted as the least sensationalist take on the all too familiar events surrounding the Inner Circle and that Scandinavian wave of Black Metal. ‘Until the Light Takes Us’ presents the story through the thoughts of some important figures from that scene, most notably Burzum’s Varg Vikernes and Fenriz of Darkthrone, who are able to articulate more of what constituted the worldview of that movement, from two very different perspectives – Varg as the idealist finding himself trapped within his surroundings and Fenriz as a former idealist now trapped within himself. For example, the Count Grishnackh likens his experience in prison to being in a monastery, as it imposes a strong sense of discipline on him, conducive to self-development, engaging with reality at the level of ‘ideas’ and the eternal quest for ‘Truth’. Fenriz, on the other hand, looks pretty directionless and resentful of the events that culminated in his loss of spirit to the extent that he describes his current music with Darkthrone as like petting dogs (the fans) and inspiring them to share his misery, possibly offing themselves as a result.

This film is clearly a chance for those involved to speak about such things after the initial media attention and exposure had long ago infected the exclusivist purity of Norwegian Black Metal. As such, it is not really a film about Black Metal. No clear picture is put together as to be able to explain what Black Metal is, although larger conclusions can be drawn as streams of dialogue intersect and are placed alongside appropriate imagery and Nordic scenery. The anti-Judeo-Christian sentiments of church burnings and the anti-consumerist, anti-westernisation implications of Helvete’s radical ideology are explored with reasonable depth, but there is nothing much said about what they affirmed and found beauty in, which is the real impulse behind many classic Black Metal albums. Combined with what seemed to be the ultimate fate of these artists as some form of social ostracisation and self-destruction (captured by Satyricon’s Frost and his throat-slitting public art display, and Dead’s suicide), Black Metal – whatever it is – comes off as a dark curiosity ultimately yielding fatalistic results. Fair enough, that’s not the purpose of the movie, but for a Black Metal initiate, this film offers little more than surplus interview material. It’s interesting as a documentary, exploring the detrimental effects of media bullshit super-imposed on an ideological and artistic movement that stood well outside of what the media can express in it’s limited lexicon, and provides content for those interested to further research this cryptic genre.

- Written by ObscuraHessian

Blessed are the Tales of the Sick

October 2, 2009 –

Many reissues of underground Metal CDs, especially onto the digipack format of packaging, have removed much of the experience of being immersed in the total artistic presentation that was part and parcel of the infernal sounds it contained on the disc. This is seemingly symptomatic of casual, background, mp3 listening, which feigns a disregard of anything external to the music itself, while at the same time a reduction of whatever’s being heard, to exactly that: ornament. There’s something to be said about the honest ritualism of setting time and space aside in this multi-tasking age of lifestreams and other such convergences of different faced distractions, in order to access deeper and darker worlds. Interesting cover art and a booklet complete with lyrics and liner notes all aid to this end.  Peaceville records reissued a large selection of their early 90′s back catalogue several years ago, with some classic albums missing lyrics or important liner notes. Roadrunner records’ budget ‘Two from the Vault’ series were even less impressive, with their dual-offering reducing the content that once accompanied each album to something of infomercial ‘Best of Country Music’ standards. Peaceville, to their credit, did include some interesting bonus material on their digipacked CDs of the first four Darkthrone albums. This was a series of interviews conducted by the Black Metallers themselves, reflecting on the circumstances surrounding each album.

The reissue we’re concerned with has captured the best of both worlds, heeding the traditional benefit of drawing a listener into the experience of the album with detailed and faithfully imported contents, as well as providing bonus material in the form of a full-length documentary about the Death Metal classic that is Morbid Angel’s ‘Blessed are the Sick’. This commemoration of the great work features a fold-out design that replaces the pages of a booklet with new and old artwork appearing more vibrantly than it would on glossy paper. Delville’s depiction especially, of Satan ensnaring fallen humanity, has not looked more powerful on any previous pressing. Demanding almost childlike interactivity, the digipack is an enjoyable format to get lost in Vincent’s amoral and blasphemous sermons more so than in-sleeve booklets. Full liner notes are included, and like those of the previous album, they intimately reveal more about the intentions and the attitude of these artists, even dedicating the entire work to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

One unavoidable sacrifice to the presentation is the lack of art or logo on the CD itself, because it’s not technically a CD, but a dual-layered CD/DVD. This brings us to ‘Tales of the Sick’, an hour-length documentary about the making of the album, the subsequent touring of the new tracks and its lasting legacy. Conversations with Morbid Angel are limited to insights from David Vincent, whose articulation isn’t quite enough to compensate for the lack of ‘Blessed are the Sick’s lead song-writer and sonic shaman, Trey Azagthoth. And although he doesn’t quite resemble the same blonde-haired Hessian that upheld the Nietzschean spirit of Death Metal since it’s golden age, Vincent provides an interesting commentary on why the album sounds like it does and the obstacles the band faced to achieve this sound. Further to Azagthoth’s tribute in the liner notes, Vincent goes on to describe ‘Blessed are the Sick’ as an attempt to approach Mozart’s compositional style through the lens of Death Metal. Tom Morris of the reknowned Morrissound studios reveals the more technical challenges in engineering one of the most astoundingly crisp and clear sounding Death Metal albums, despite its speed and complexity. Other interviews feature the following generation of Death Metal musicians such as Nile’s Karl Sanders, and a lot of memories from the tours are shared by former managers and sound technicians. As an additional bonus, Earache have included the official music video for ‘Blessed are the Sick/Leading the Rats’, though in it’s original 4:3 aspect ratio. This is a great supplement to an highly influential album, and any real fan of Morbid Angel would do well to add this reissue to their collection.

Written by ObscuraHessian